Science 3 min read

Study: Earth is Headed for a Significant Population Decline

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Free-Photos /

By 2100, population decline could become a challenging issue for humanity, rather than provide the relief you might expect.

According to a recent study, dozens of countries’ populations will be going into decline — if they aren’t already. Twenty-three countries will experience a significant population drop of 50 percent by 2100.

The new projection also suggested that the global population will peak at 9.7 billion around 2064. After that, it’ll start dropping off to reach 8.8 billion towards the end of the century.

In a statement to BBC, co-author, and researcher at the University of Washington, Christopher Murray said:

“That’s a pretty big thing; most of the world is transitioning into natural population decline. I think it’s incredibly hard to think this through and recognize how big a thing this is…”

Before exploring why the population drop might not be good news, let’s address the cause.

Why the World is Headed for a Population Decline

Fertility rate — the average number of children a woman gives birth to — is falling. In 1950, women had an average of 4.7 children in their lifetime, which has nearly halved to reach 2.4 in 2017.

According to the researchers, the population starts to fall when the fertility rate goes below roughly 2.1. Meanwhile, projections published in The Lancet suggest that it’ll fall below 1.7 by 2100.

So, why are fertility rates dropping?

Reports suggest that the driving forces behind the decline are education and contraception.

Unlike the baby boom era following the second world war, more women now receive an education and join the workforce. Also, contraception is now widely available. As a result, more women are choosing to have fewer children.

In many ways, a falling global population is a success story. Falling birthrates in the developing countries would bring more affluence and autonomy for women.

Countries would have fewer workers, and that’ll command a higher wage. Also, a smaller population would slow carbon emissions and deforestation of farmlands, reducing famine risk.

There’s just one small problem.

The Inverted Age Structure that Comes with Falling Fertility Rate

Gerd Altmann /

The falling fertility rate would cause an inverted age structure. That means there would be more older adults in the world than young people.

The study projects that the number of under-fives will fall from 681 million in 2017 to 401 million in 2100. On the other hand, the number of elderly over 80-years-old will surge from 141 million to 866 million within the same period.

It will create enormous social change,” said Professor Murray.

Who pays tax in a massively aged world? Also, who pays for healthcare for the elderly? Who looks after the elderly? Will people still be able to retire from work?” 

The inverted age structure would be a global issue since 183 countries out of 195 will have a fertility rate below the replacement level.

At first, more countries will use migrations to compensate for falling fertility rates. However, as the population decline becomes more widespread, this method could become less effective.

I find people laugh it off. They can’t imagine it could be true, they think women will just decide to have more kids,” says Prof Murray.

“If you can’t [find a solution], then eventually the species disappears. But that’s a few centuries away.”

Read More: How AI and Clean Energy can Reduce Overpopulation Woes

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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